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Former Uber engineers say sexism and abuse were widespread

Source | Linked In | Caroline Fairchild, New Economy Editor at LinkedIn

In an explosive blog post published last week, Susan Fowler outlined a series of discriminatory and sexist episodes she experienced as an Uber employee, only to be then let down by what she describes as an inherently broken human resources department that deflected her cries for help.

Fowler resigned from Uber this past December, but she left behind hundreds of female engineering peers. In an attempt to understand how widespread Fowler’s tale was, I reached out to nearly 100 former Uber software engineers, interviewed nearly a dozen and reviewed supporting documents like resignation letters.

Most of the engineers I interviewed told stories similar to Fowler’s, with tales of an unrestrained “frat-like” culture of the kind described in a New York Times article. One male employee shared an account of a female colleague being ridiculed by her peers after she suggested that a t-shirt with a nude woman on it worn by a male engineer might be inappropriate for the office. Another said engineers talked openly with their managers at lunch about their latest sexual escapade or drunk adventure.

“I really wanted to believe that my experience was an exception, and that I failed at Uber because I deserved to fail, not because of factors beyond my control,” said one female former engineering manager. “Every time I hear a story like [Fowler’s]… I realize that this was the norm.”

Everyone I spoke to agreed to talk only on the condition of anonymity — some even asking I make no reference to race, age or gender — for fear of retribution from Uber. Finding former female software engineers was challenging; Uber this week reported that only 15.1% of their technical workforce is female — low by tech standards. Out of some 500 people who list having once worked for Uber as a software engineer on their LinkedIn profile, only about 15 are female.

Responding to a request for comment, a company spokesperson said that the internal investigation — led by board member Arianna Huffington and former Attorney General Eric Holder — into the issue will focus not only on how women are treated at the company, but all underrepresented groups. Engineering teams, in particular, have been identified as demanding a deep review. And while some sites have questioned how Holder and Huffington can remain impartial, the Uber spokesperson said that the investigation will remain “thorough and independent.”

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